Your hair is long, the way you like it and your mother hates it, thick and glossy as it cascades down your back. Your skin is dewy fresh and youth radiates from you like the sparkling rays of the distant sun. You are facing the boarding gate, your back unhesitatingly turned on your past.
You don’t know it now, but this is a forever goodbye. When you step on that plane, you will leave the country of your birth and the promise of a defined future for the glitter and excitement of the unknown. The two suitcases in your hands will be given away, along with their contents, as you search for your future, your possessions scattered amongst countries like little breadcrumbs in your footsteps.
The heavy backpack stuffed to the brim, that you already can’t wait to take off, is the one thing that will always keep you company. You will shove it under a bus full of chickens in Morocco, throw it down on grassy festival fields in France, heave it into the back of strangers’ cars in Bosnia and use it as a pillow one cold night on a sandy beach with newfound friends in Greece.
Youthful optimism and naivety will lead you to believe that the world is your oyster and that life will always be this easy. You don’t know that life will get hard-harder than you ever could have imagined.
You will soon find out that you have a weak spot for men that ask for too much and give too little. You accept. You give them everything. There is feast and then there is famine. The cycle repeats itself. When there is a feast, you learn to gorge yourself, devouring their empty promises, capricious affection and elusive attention. No matter how hard you try, it is never enough. When the famine becomes too much, which it always inevitably does, you walk away. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. You convince yourself this is love. You learn that love hurts.
You try to slow down to catch your breath. Sometimes you want to stop. There is no stopping. The change continues, like a ball rolling down a hill, hurtling over everything in its path, changing direction without warning, propelled by its own inertia.
Your friends all tell you that love doesn’t have to be that way. They say that when you know, you know. You look at them and you see on their Instagram everything that your life is not. There are lacy white wedding dresses, candlelit anniversaries in dimly-lit restaurants, baby’s first steps, and family vacations. You want all of these things. You try harder and give more, but love remains elusive, like a morning mist that disappears when the day comes.
With time, you start to see the cracks. There are fights and then couple’s therapy. Sometimes you watch two people begin to live separate lives side-by-side. Sometimes there is divorce. You start to wonder why you are told to want this. Being alone, you think, really isn’t that bad at all.
Friends and lovers will come and go. Sometimes it hurts, but you are stronger than you think. You just don’t know it yet. Despite what you show on the outside, you are scared that your confidence is nothing more than a flimsy house of cards. With each rejection, the house comes tumbling down, cards scattering in the wind as you run to collect them. You dust them off, count each one and tend to their scratches and tears. At times, you feel exhausted, too tired to start rebuilding your house after the fall.
With time, the cards will lose their luster. They begin to look worn, their edges frayed and their surfaces scratched, despite your relentless effort to protect them. You ask yourself whether the cards are becoming more fragile or if life is just becoming harder. You don’t know the answer. What you do know, what time has shown you, is that you will continue to collect your cards after the fall. No matter how much rejection, how many mistakes, or how frayed those cards become, somehow, and without fail, you will always find the strength to rebuild your house of cards.
You change as the world changes. You feel as if you are running a race, a never-ending marathon up and down impossibly tall mountains. You try to slow down to catch your breath. Sometimes you want to stop. There is no stopping. The change continues, like a ball rolling down a hill, hurtling over everything in its path, changing direction without warning, propelled by its own inertia. You become a ball too, pulled along by your own relentless inertia. For better or for worse, you change.
Alone, on sleepless nights, you will remember that long-haired, youthfully unjaded girl at the airport, unaware of how big and bad the world can be. You touch your hair, which is always short now, just the way your mother likes it. You ask yourself if that young girl would recognize you now despite all the changes. You wonder if would she still see a small glimmer of herself in you and if she would be proud of who you have become. You hope, with every fiber of your being, that the answer would be yes.